Monday, 29 June 2015

Tufties, Froglets and Subsong

Tufted Duck have bred on the Magic Garden pond, the first breeding for a number of years. There were nine ducklings there tonight. Tufted must be remarkably discrete nesters as I haven’t seen any evidence of  the birds there for a number of weeks and I had assumed the pair seen in May had gone.

Also masses of Froglets moving through the grass this evening

A few days ago I spent a long time trying to locate a sylvia warbler that was singing in thick foliage. It was very quiet but was singing almost continuously and because of that assumed it was probably a Garden Warbler. In fact it turned out to be a male Blackcap.

I have often heard quiet singing (known as subsong) before but only outside the breeding season and I have assumed it’s either young birds learning adult song or birds ‘humming’ to themselves but this intense quiet singing in the breeding season seemed different. There was a female Blackcap present in the same tree so I can only assume it’s some reaction to the close proximity of a mate?    .

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Bank Swallows & Swale Banks

These are a couple of Seamus Breen’s photos of communal living by the Sand Martins at Morton-on-Swale (or Bank Swallows as they are known in in America). This stretch of the Swale must be one of the best in Britain for Sand Martins.  

By the way I have had some information about my speculated fish traps (post on 19th June), John Aston explained these aren’t traps but actually unsuccessful attempts at preventing  erosion, probably from the 19th century.

My eldest has just completed his GCSEs so here’s a classic Geography exam example of erosion, and saltation and deposition of gravels (I think – I did History!). The river here has changed its course in a dramatically short time with very rapid undercutting on the right.

In fact there is significant erosion along the Swale throughout the parish, particularly where grazing occurs right to the river’s edge.

Monday, 22 June 2015

More Moths

The other moths caught on Saturday night, and new to the parish, were Clouded Silver, Silver-ground Carpet, Thistle Ermine, Brown China-mark, White-shouldered House-moth and this lovely Scorched Wing.

All of these are quite common but have pushed the parish moth list up to around 200 species. Hopefully with plans for more regular trapping that total can continue to grow. I have now included the list as one of the blog pages.

Back in our garden this very washed out Cockchafer was the only one I’ve seen so far this year.

Sunday, 21 June 2015


A friend set a couple of moth traps in the Magic Garden last night but the forecast cloudy weather never materialised and it was a clear, cool night – not ideal for moths. With a catch of 38 species it was markedly different from the 700 moths of 100 species caught on a warm, muggy July night here last year but it did include a handful of new species for the parish including this Elephant Hawk Moth.


With only a couple of moth trapping sessions in the parish to date even quite common species are still being added like this beautiful little Buff-Tip, doing a very effective imitation of a piece of broken Silver Birch twig.

And this Peppered Moth

And it’s always a pleasure to catch these fabulous Poplar Hawk Moths although they have feet like Velcro and are very hard to dislodge!


Friday, 19 June 2015

Meadow Rue

One of the plants found on the Yorkshire Naturalist’s Union visit to the village in 1946 was Common Meadow Rue (Thalictrum flavum), in the days when it was common. It is now much rarer but it does still grow in the parish although restricted to a couple of ditches and the little area of fen in the Magic Garden. This is the first one to flower this year.

As I photographed this plant I heard the call of a Kingfisher, I spotted the bird flying in over the meadow behind the garden, remarkably it flew under a grazing cow!
Kingfishers don’t tend to move on to the lake until late summer so this was perhaps a non-breeding bird or, given the exceptionally low river levels,  a bird looking for alternative food sources.

Talking of low water levels these venerable timbers are currently exposed in the river by Morton bridge, I have often wondered what they are, old fish traps perhaps?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Hogs & Buntings

The national decline of the Hedgehog has been well documented and has been reflected locally. I hadn't seen a single specimen in the parish this year but tonight there were four in the Magic Garden including a youngster. One of them hitched its breeches up and scuttled away at an amazing pace but the others took the usual evasive action of pretending they weren't there.

Nice view of a pair of Reed Buntings down there as well and the first proof of breeding at this site.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Bee Roe Flower (and burnt cakes)

I spotted a colony of Tree Bumblebees in a tree in the Magic Garden, high up in an old woodpecker’s nest. This is the first parish record of this recent  immigrant from Europe and only the second local colony I have heard of (light was so poor it’s really just a picture of a hole but they really are in there!).

This same dead tree is also home to these King Alfred’s Cakes (or Crampballs) fungi.
If you are into bushcraft these fungi are great for making fires as, once dried, they take a spark and burn slowly and can then be applied to tinder.
The fen area of the garden attracted this buck Roe, the only species of deer we get in the parish, which effortlessly jumped the double garden/field fence before running for cover. There are small populations of deer both to the north and south of the main road but given the lack of woodland cover in the parish they are surprisingly elusive.

The other morning as I was rushing for work I saw the first garden Bullfinches since the winter. They were feeding on the seeds of Geranimum phaeum and even made graceless attempts to imitate fat hummingbirds to get the higher seeds.

And finally to continue my popular long-running series of poor-quality long distance shots of birds… this Little Egret was on the Swale the other night with a good show of its ‘aigrettes’

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Down our street the Swallows take advantage of the various archways with this bird nesting in the church porch (The 'gentleman of the road' who occasionally sleeps in the church here usually records the number of young in the visitors book)

There are also a couple of pairs in a neighbours archway and two nests within a couple of feet in the doorway of the village hall.

Presumably these latter birds must be related to nest in such close proximity?

Walking home last night I photographed this striking luminous cloud above the village.

Saturday, 6 June 2015


I only saw my first Cuckoo Spit of the year yesterday evening.

The title for this post is the Swiss term for it and Cuckoo-spit is a widespread name in Europe although in Scandinavia it tends to be known by a variant of Frog or Toad’s spit and in some countries Witch’s spit or Snake Spit.
I had always assumed the name was simply from its appearance at about the time Cuckoos start calling, as with the Cuckoo Flower (Lady’s Smock) - which incidentally appears much more widespread in the parish this year.

But there was an ancient belief that the tiny green Froghopper, which sits in the middle of the foamy 'spit', was a baby Cuckoo thus explaining the mystery of no-one ever finding the bird's nest.

Parish bird year list to end of May - 99 species.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Ragged Robin

This plant just clings on in the parish in the remnant area of fen in the Magic Garden. Last year there was only a single plant but popping down there tonight there were two large swathes of this beautiful little flower.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Summer torpor and status changes...

Things have really quietened down on the bird front and the only highlight of a longish walk this morning was a Little Egret on the river. This is the first June record in the parish for a species which has dramatically changed its status. The first sighting was less than ten years ago and subsequent records were restricted to the odd late summer bird on the Swale (a couple of ringing recoveries point to these being birds from the Nottinghamshire breeding population). Last year numbers peaked at five birds and this year they have been seen in every month except May.
Given the rapid expansion of the egret population in the UK an increase in local sightings perhaps isn’t particularly surprising but I’m always intrigued why some species numbers fluctuate.

To take a couple of examples…
Tree Sparrows.

This species saw a dramatic crash in numbers from the 1970s and this was reflected in the parish, they were a distinctly difficult bird to find when we first moved here in the late 1980s. The last few years, however, have seen a rapid increase and they now outnumber House Sparrows (even in our garden). It’s not clear to me what has changed in those years to (partially) reverse their decline?

You also get unexplained short term swings e.g. in 2014 Garden Warbler numbers (the bird above was pictured in Morton last year) exceeded those of Blackcap but this year the latter are by far the commoner species. Why?

This smart male was photographed in the Magic Garden